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Food is Sacrifice; Cooking is Sacred

Yesterday, my husband and I were out and about and we decided to stop for lunch at Dutchess Diner in Poughkeepsie. We left ill and in my case, pissed off. The food was, quite simply inedible: tasteless, unseasoned, and gross. It actually made my husband sick to the point of vomiting because it was so poorly thought out. Now, usually I’d just file this under ‘never eat there again’ and be done with it, but it irritated me to the degree that I realized it crossed into space that violated my food taboos and I have many, particularly surrounding food (this is one of the joys of being a priest and vitki: one acquires various taboos and, to use an Irish term as there isn’t one that I know in English, gessa. In other words, there are things I cannot do in service to the Gods and things I must, respectively). Hospitality and food specifically are huge areas where quite a lot of sacred things come together.

Firstly, food is fucking sacred. Be it plant or animal something has laid down its life to sustain ours. It is the predator-prey cycle. And for all those vegetarians who feel morally superior to everyone else because they don’t consume flesh, consider this: science has proven that not only are plants sentient in their own way, but they know when you’re about to cut and kill them. I read one article years ago that said one study showed they even scream. We just can’t hear it. (My gardener friend just told me that the smell of cut grass is grass warning other grass and plants that cutting is coming, because they are being slaughtered. Again, there were a couple of studies done. They exude chemicals when they are dying that is akin to crying. They cry as they are dying). You do not actually have the moral high ground. It’s a good lesson about how we shouldn’t prioritize one form of life over another. It’s ALL valuable. It’s all full of consequence.

This is one of the Vanic mysteries: to draw sustenance from the land and to give back to the land in return. To grow something, tend it, nourish it, and then consume it drawing upon its nourishment is a powerful cycle. Modernity has utterly corrupted it, removed us from the land, from the slaughter of our own animals, from the tending of our own crops, from buying meat and crops grown naturally and by our neighbors. We fill our food with chemicals and by- products and utter shit to the point it no longer qualifies as food. It’s obscene. The corollary is that we also don’t really give a shit anymore about properly preparing it. Far too few learn from their parents how to cook and maintain a home.

To prepare food is a grace, an honor, an expression of hospitality. It is nourishment, of course on the basest level, but spiritually ever so much more. Cooking is alchemy. It’s a combination of elements to product, through some weird chemical process, a different, more nourishing whole. To show disrespect for food is to show disrespect to the Gods. Part of being respectful is learning how to cook properly. This includes cooking for yourself; and as with allowing media to take up space in one’s mind, being mindful of what ingredients one uses, of what one allows to take up space in one’s body is equally important.  Worry about the integrity of the food rather than the calories. Just eat less of a portion of actual food. You may find you need and want less.

I’m going to digress here for a moment. Let me talk about salt. Salt was a prized commodity to some of our ancestors. It was precious. They knew its value. They hadn’t yet been exposed to a corporate pseudo-health industry trying to convince them that man-made chemicals are better, or that food should be left ill-prepared. Salt is magic. Salt brings out the flavor of food, particularly meat. It must be added during the cooking process, NOT after, for the proper chemical and alchemical process to happen. Adding it after cooking will not work. Apparently, it’s the fad now to cook everything, including meat without salt. It’s positively disgusting; it’s like eating cardboard. Now, I understand moderating one’s salt but if you’re not willing to cook a thing properly than just don’t cook it at all; it’s the same with butter. Margarine is filled with chemicals. It’s gross. Use butter and if you must be careful, use less. Substituting good, natural, wholesome ingredients with processed shit is like spitting in Frey’s face.

This is why it drives me crazy when people (who haven’t been properly brought up, i.e. had parents who for whatever reason didn’t teach them how to handle themselves in a kitchen – and there are many reasons this may happen, including the parents not having been taught themselves) try to take short cuts in the kitchen. Stop. Just stop. Do things as they are meant to be done. If you don’t understand the process, trying to experiment or take short cuts is a quick road to disaster. Learn how to do things properly.

When I cook, I am honoring my ancestors, every last one of them who did this every day to feed themselves and their families. I am forging and re-forging a connection to them through the work of my hands. When I cook, I’m honoring the Vanir and often pray as I prep my food, because everything I’m doing is possible because of Their gifts. To walk into a place and pay money – also something sacred, a form of nourishment, a thing with transformative power ruled by the Duergar—for something poorly prepared, treated with utter lack of care, disdainfully and foolishly is a violation of every one of those tenets. It goes right back to the old maxim: if you can’t do something right, don’t do it at all.

For those wanting to better their cooking skills, I recommend taking a couple of classes from a local culinary school if you can afford it (they often offer classes for the lay person). Otherwise, there are youtube videos, magazines, grandmothers—not necessarily your own. Old people, know things lol. ;). Get a good set of knives, a good skillet, a cooking pan, a mixing bowl, and a crock pot (a great book to start with is Make it Fast, Cook it Slow which offers 365 recipes for the crock pot), mixing spoons and cups (they are not the same). Also, when working on a budget, it’s better to use simple ingredients that are real, like beans and rice and a lot of flavoring than to buy a bunch of processed, frozen crap or fast food, even if that can be deceptively filling. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Yes, mistakes will happen and some things as you learn will be inedible. This is ok. It’s part of the learning process and it’s a far cry from presenting to guests something that should be edible but isn’t in the mistaken guise you’re competent.

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A Weekend Away and Some Theology

(This rambles…a lot lol. You have been warned).

So, I’ve been in New York City the last couple of days attending a theology conference. The title of the conference is “Faith, Reason, Theosis” and so far, it’s been pretty amazing. The scholastic currents being discussed (at least in day one) are well outside of my wheelhouse so I won’t discuss them here save to say that the entire idea of theosis makes me deeply uncomfortable. I did have an interesting talk with a Jesuit professor of philosophy (I took his course on Augustine a few years ago and it blew my mind) who agreed that, at least in part, ideas of theosis for Christians were influenced by pre-Christian concepts of deification. Still, it makes me deeply uncomfortable when it’s applied as a goal of faith, especially when post-modernists remove the sacramental scaffolding and even at times “God” from the equation. Thank you, no. If I want that, I can listen to a ceremonialist drone on and on. Lol. (Granted, this isn’t my area, so I may be grossly minimalizing the issues here and I’m drawing the questions and comments below largely from only a single day of speakers – there’s still two more to go. At any rate, the focus of the conference is discussion of Orthodox and Catholic responses to the idea of theosis). I was tired when I arrived at the conference, and at first, despite excellent presentations, I was a little bored (Thomas Aquinas—not my thing) but then the Q&A started and that was absolutely fascinating. It was almost enough, almost, to make me want to hold another polytheist conference. Hah. Don’t hold your breath.

Anyway, during the opening talks, I was scribbling notes and several questions arose from the speakers. Ignoring the pages of my journal where I kept noting that “Modernity=Nihilism”, (I also made crazy little sketches of presenters – idle hands after all and all that) the relevant things I want to discuss here are as follows (I will reframe from the singularity of the Divine articulated by the speakers to a more natural and appropriate plurality in my responses):

• How can a conscious spirit be anything other than a desire for God?

• God owes His creatures grace within the terms of creation (the grace to achieve theosis) but it’s a debt owed only to His own goodness.

• How can there be “excess” in loving one’s God? Many modern philosophers/theologians seem to speak of the “excessive qualities of the cross” in ways that seem to imply that they want to erase their God from the process and goal of theosis and replace the sacramental scaffolding with the human ego.

The first question, I believe, comes from Neo-Platonic influences on religious (in the case of the conference, Christian) thought. I don’t argue that our souls and the fullness of our being should be comprised, materia prima, of longing and love for the Gods. I think it is the only part of us that truly matters. When we peel away the dross and pollution of modern living (hell, just of living because let’s face it, the ancients wrestled with these issues too), at our core I firmly believe that (when we are rightly ordered), our spirits are expressed longing for the Gods. I also think that every single thing in our current world teaches us to obscure, deny, and annihilate that longing.

I will admit, listening to this particular speaker, I did think “well, aren’t you a bit of an optimist about the human condition” lol but it’s important to remind ourselves not to mistake external ephemera for the true, essential nature of our beings. I also suspect that this statement: that at the core of a soul is longing for the Gods may make some readers angry. If so, consider why. Why would you not long for the Gods with every fibre of your being? I think the real challenge of our various spiritualities is not only the discovery of that longing, recognizing it as our essential state of being, but also cultivating it, tending that fire, stripping away the dross, feeding it, and allowing it to burn away everything else.

A day or so before I came into the city for the conference, I was watching a movie with my husband and a friend and the lead female reminded me strongly in appearance of a student – call her H.– I had over twenty years ago. This student was three or four days away from her initiation and bailed. She became pissy about it too, justifying her decision by trashing the idea of the experiential devotion inherent in the initiatory process (as being only relevant to specialists. “Not everyone needs to be a mystic” blah blah blah. No, not everyone does, but baseline devotion does not a mystic make). A friend of mine who was hanging out with us asked me why this woman would do such a thing. I said “at the eleventh hour she realized initiation would change everything.” My friend agreed but didn’t see the problem (unlike H. my friend is not a spiritual coward). I explained that “H. didn’t want to make the Gods a priority in her life. She was afraid it might interfere with her secular, job-related priorities of climbing the corporate ladder and making money. She didn’t want to become the kind of person she thought could live a devoted life and she didn’t want to have to reprioritize her life.” My friend asked the most salient question of the night, “Didn’t she realize that putting the Gods first makes everything better? On the basest most crass level, They help us in our work in the world. They fill our lives with bounty and blessings.” And that is the question. My only response was a poem by the Islamic poet Rabi’a:

O my Lord,

if I worship you
from fear of hell, burn me in hell.

If I worship you
from hope of Paradise, bar me from its gates.

But if I worship you
for yourself alone, grant me then the beauty of your Face.

(Rabi’a, “[O my Lord]” translated by Jane Hirshfield, from Women in Praise of the Sacred (New York: Harper Collins, 1994).)

I will let this stand for now and move on to the second question or comment really, since I wrote it down because I have very strong feelings that the Gods owe us nothing. They may give us everything but They don’t owe us. We ought not give sacrifices and offerings just to get things, but because it is the right thing to do, because it honors Them, because those relationships are the most essential we will ever have and it is right and proper to make windows into the world through which the Gods may walk. It isn’t and shouldn’t be about us. Yes, at times offerings and devotion may follow a do ut des model – if I need something from a Deity, I won’t approach with empty hands. It’s rude. But that is not the only nor the most essential model of veneration. To imply that it is cheapens our traditions and frankly spits in the faces of our ancestors. It shouldn’t be “I give in order to receive” but “I give because I have received” or maybe better still, “I give because I love.”

Returning to the bullet points I noted, I was struck by the idea articulated in bullet point #2 that God owes humanity His grace by virtue of the contract of creation but the debt is NOT one owed to humanity itself but rather to His own goodness. In other words, God owes Himself. It’s a nice reframing and re-articulation of an issue that plagues the Heathen community: the entitlement we all too often feel before our Gods. We are not owed a god damned thing for the paltry devotion we deign to show. We have been given everything and it is a debt we cannot hope to replay. The devotional relationships that we ought to cultivate with our Gods aren’t for the purpose of getting things, or even with any hope of repayment of a contract. It is our natural, good, and rightly ordered state of being. It is our purpose, the highest and most natural expression of our souls.

Finally, one of the issues that kept coming up in post-modernist pushback against scholastic and pre-scholastic ideas of theosis was this language of “excess” in devotion. One source talked about the “excess of the crucifixion” rather the excess of devotional response to it. I see this in some modern Catholics. Case in point: I recently gave a Catholic relative L. Montfort’s classic devotional text on Mary and while she is very devout she really struggled with it, because it wasn’t Jesus focused in the way that many Protestant “devotionals” might be. The idea of giving reverence and specifically heart-felt devotion to the Mother of God—in the way that was traditional, licit, and universal within her tradition for generations– was uncomfortable (and I blame Vatican II and its bullshit for a lot of this but, not my circus, not my monkeys. I do find it complicated though. Gods know that the weakening of the organizational Catholic Church is not a bad thing for growing polytheisms, but then on the other side of that, I think that any weakening of devotional fervor is a win for evil and doesn’t serve us in our devotions either so …my response to that all is rather complicated). It seemed “excessive” to her. Post-moderns would, I believe, cast any devotion as excessive. This is problematic.

Personally, I do not believe it is possible to be too excessive in one’s fervor and love for one’s Gods. That is exactly what ought to fuel our soul’s longing, feed it, nourish it, encourage it. Whenever I hear Pagans or Polytheists (and especially Heathens) talk about how one is too excessive in one’s devotions (and it happens, less now than a decade ago but it still happens) I really just want to laugh in their faces and tell them they are theologically unschooled. Not today, Heathen child, not today. This is a bullshit free zone. Still, I think it’s important to think about what it is in our culture (that has seeped into our traditions) that would teach us that devotion, any devotion particularly the messy, emotional, embodied kind is ‘excessive.’ What does that mean? When loving the Gods is our souls’ reason for being, how can there be any excess?

This last question I’m going to explore more fully and hopefully will have time to do so over the next couple of days. Right now, I’m going to bring this to a close since it’s running rather long and I actually need to get my butt up and get out the door for day two of this amazing conference. Enjoy your day, folks. 

Are We Giving Halal Meat to Our Gods?

A reader from Australia emailed me this morning. Her question was simple:

My reader wrote:

 “I just found out recently that a *lot* of the meat here is now. My understanding is that those animals are then dedicated with a prayer to Allah by a practicing Muslim.

The issue there is that they don’t label such meat so you don’t know what you’re getting. (A horrible greedy move from corporations wanting to make money*)

As someone who makes fairly frequent food offerings which may have been halal meat without my knowledge – would this make a difference at all?

This is probably a really stupid question – but as someone else who makes food offerings, I was interested in your opinion.”

*(Apparently, it is less expensive to produce one category of meat. There have been issues for observant Jews and Muslims with kosher and halal slaughtering in factories, with it not being done properly, so perhaps the real issue here is factory farming… -GK)

Well, yes. It makes quite a huge difference. I’ve asked my reader to send me more information, and I’ll be doing some research on my own, but if meat is being rendered halal, and that includes a prayer and dedication to Allah, and then that meat is being sold without efficient labelling, that is a huge problem for us.

This is, ironically, the same thing early Christians had to deal with in the Roman Empire, where the majority of meat came from offerings to the Gods. This was one of the spurs to the development of the Eastern monastic movement, and you even see Vegetarianism in parts of the Eastern Church. The Christians solved this by conquering the Roman empire. #lifegoals. 

Seriously though, if meat is offered to Allah, or dedicated to Him before purchase, (as it is perfectly acceptable and proper for Muslims to do), then it is not an appropriate offering to our Gods. Plus, if we consume it, we’re consuming meat dedicated to at best a God Whose tradition is opposed to ours, Whose tradition contributed to the destruction of ours, and we’re giving to our Gods, meat already claimed. This is horrifying to me. It’s like having a friend over for dinner and giving them meat that has been pre-chewed.

I would suggest two things: either slaughter your own meat (chickens, rabbits etc, but you have to have training for this) or research the hell out of it and find meat that isn’t halal. One thing you might look for is organic farms that will allow you to pick out an animal and have it slaughtered for you, then you get the meat, or you and whoever else has bought into the animal. 

Either way, this is a significant theological issue, not just for those of us whose traditions involve the sacrament of sacrifice, but for those who wish to eat meat without polluting themselves. What is appropriate for a Muslim to give, is not for us (and vice versa).

I’m not sure what the state of things is in the US, but you better believe, I’ll be looking into it.

 

EDIT: after a cursory websearch it looks like this is a problem with USDA as well, so much so that there have been ongoing petitions for accurate labelling.

Hootigägli Howdown on Tumblr

Apparently Emily Kamp, this month’s “Polytheistic Voices” interviewee, is getting a bit of harassment on her tumblr page because she was interviewed by me. Really pathetic, folks, but unsurprising (though I constantly marvel at the lack of nuanced reading comprehension in some of my critics. Wow. There are resources that can help you, folks, really. I’d look into that if I were you. I can hunt up a list of organizations that focus on increasing literacy if you like).

At any rate, one of the criticisms is that I apparently “devalued the Holocaust” by comparing it to “willing conversions.” Firstly, buttercups, I never said anything about the Holocaust. I said, if I recall correctly, that the destruction of our traditions, the destruction of our shrines, temples, groves, and sacred places, the forced conversion and religious genocide that occurred as a consequence of monotheism, specifically of Christianity marching through Europe and later Islam through the middle east (and for a time into Europe) was a holocaust. I stand by that statement. The destruction of these sacred covenants with the land, the ancestors and the Gods, the destruction of our traditions and the corruption of the world into monotheism was a terrible holocaust, one from which we have yet to recover. The word, my dear readers, existed long before World War II. A simple search of the term on dictionary.com yields the following:

noun

  1. a great or complete devastation or destruction, especially by fire.
  2. a sacrifice completely consumed by fire; burnt offering.

    3.(usually initial capital letter) the systematic mass slaughter of European Jews in Nazi   concentration camps during World War II (usually preceded by the). 

    4.any mass slaughter or reckless destruction of life.

If I were to give a sacrifice to Odin, and after slaughtering the animal, commit it to full immolation that would, technically be a holocaust. The ruthless destruction of our traditions and those who practiced them is likewise a holocaust. Isn’t it interesting how context, indefinite articles, and capitalization (or lack thereof) actually matters grammatically? English is neat that way. (The emphasis in the above dictionary.com quote was in the original. It was not mine).

Secondly, if anyone actually thinks that Europe converted willingly, you all need to read your history a little more thoroughly. Moreover, if you think our polytheistic ancestors abandoned their traditions and Gods so readily then why are you even bothering to practice any type of polytheism now? Those who saw the rise of Christianity did not, in fact – despite generations of Christian propaganda to the contrary (including a deeply embedded idea of hierarchy of religions that places monotheism or atheism at the top)– go gently into that good night. I often wonder what it was like for the generation that was forced to bury their sacred items and images, or give them over to the bog in order that they might not be desecrated by Christian hands.

Let’s see, off the top of my head:

We all know about Hypatia, the philosopher tortured to death by Christians, but have you bothered to read about Olvir of Egg, a Scandinavian martyr tortured to death by Olaf Trygvasson (may he be ever damned) because he would not abandon the Norse Gods? How many of you know about Charlemagne’s continued persecutions against Saxon Heathens, culminating in the massacre of 2500 of them? Or the forced conversion of the Orkneys – let’s round up all the children while the men are out working and threaten to kill them if the village doesn’t convert? So Christian. So very, very Christian.

Then there’s Raud the strong, also tortured to death by Olaf Trygvasson, again for refusing conversion. Likewise there’s a Norwegian chieftain and priest – unnamed I believe in the sources – who was tortured to death by –guess who—Olaf Trygvasson again for attempting to protect the sacred images of Thor and the temple in Maeren when Trygvasson destroyed it.

We have the Stellinga, still practicing their polytheism under duress in the ninth century. There’s Eyvind Kinnrifi, tortured to death by…wanna hazard a guess? …Trygvasson again, for refusing to convert. No wonder the Christians canonized this fucker. He sure kept busy butchering the pious. May we be as efficient in restoring our traditions as he was in destroying them – and preferably without all the bloodshed.

Saints’ lives are always sickly entertaining reading, if one wishes to see what polytheists faced during the spread of Christianity. Take the life of Martin of Tours for instance. I can barely stand to read it (and I’ve had to multiple times in various theology classes). Just from memory, I recall he interrupted a Pagan funeral procession, desecrating the ancestral rites because he wanted to make sure the Gods weren’t being venerated. He destroyed multiple temples and shrines, and chopped down trees holy to the local Pagans. Each time, people protested up to the point of riots. This is not an isolated series of incidents. This was standard operating procedure for these missionaries and each time there is recorded resistance.

My favorite account is the wonderful resistance by the Pagans at Lyon in the second century who, frankly, were just sick of Christian bullshit. (Eusebius writes about this in his Ecclesiastical History and of course it’s framed as persecution of Christians. Yes, defending one’s ancestral traditions, refusing to abandon one’s Gods, and driving out the people who are desecrating one’s holy places is persecution, but monotheists coming into a place engaging in wholesale destruction of sacred spaces and attempting to force conversion isn’t? Obviously, these early Christians had the same literacy problems as some of my tumblr readers).

Blood was spilled to defend our Gods and our traditions. That Christian writers later presented conversion as inevitable and willing does not mean that it was in fact so. It was anything but.

Intrepid tumblristas are also protesting that I support human sacrifice.  Obviously, this is ludicrous. What I’m not willing to do, however, is condemn our ancestors because it was occasionally practiced. They lived in a very, very different world and had reasons for doing what they did, reasons that we may now find abhorrent. I’m not suggesting we return to giving human sacrifice, but neither do I think we’re more advanced than our ancestors. We may have better technology but we’re so much more disconnected from the land, the dead, and the Gods that in no way do I think we’re particularly evolved. So take that for what it’s worth.

I do think it would be a good and holy thing if we were able to lay ourselves down before our Gods in offering and die in sacrifice to Them if that is what we wish, (you know, consent matters in some things) and how we wish to die but given the state of euthanasia laws in this country, that’s not going to happen in any of our lifetimes so what I think on this matter is largely irrelevant. Likewise, if I were a soldier, I would, in fact, dedicate my kills to my Gods. Why not? I belong to a God of war and I’m not wasteful. But you know, that’s all contextual, theoretical, and nuanced as opposed to blanket support for human sacrifice. No wonder my tumblr readers found it confusing to digest. (Though let’s be honest: given how our society treats its most vulnerable, the blanket callousness and cruelty with which we treat our impoverished, the pointless wars in which we’ve been engaged for what? Almost 20 years now…one wonders if we don’t’ have a culture that supports human sacrifice wholesale and for far less relevant a purpose than honoring the gods. In fact, I think we have very little room to condemn our ancestors when we have turned the world that we inherited from them to shit).

More resources detailing the historical persecution of polytheists may be found here and here.

Remember, folks: reading is fundamental.

 

 

 

 

Brjóta ekki bein (Don’t Break the Bones): Sacrifice in the Northern Tradition

(I know that this is going to be a challenging topic for some of you. If you are bothered by frank discussions of religion and animal sacrifice, stop reading and go watch this cat video. Here’s some pussies for you to play with. For everyone else, let’s have an adult conversation).

Years and years ago (at least fifteen if not longer) when I was still Theodish, I remember many heated discussions over the proper way to perform sacrifice. Those among us who were trained to perform this ritual were split about the proper way to dispatch the chosen animals. Some favored shooting the animal in the head first (as a mercy) and others using a clean cut at the throat. One of the reasons given for preferring the traditional method (the cut of the knife) was the story of the Thor and His goats.

Thor’s chariot is driven by two goats: Tanngrisnir (snarler, one who bears his teeth) and Tanngnjóstr (teeth grinder). When necessary, Thor is able to kill, cook, and consume these goats who will then be restored to life with His hammer provided their bones are left intact. The prose Edda tells the story of Thor’s visit to a farmer. He and Loki stop for rest, and Thor (perhaps knowing that hosting two Gods is a bit much for a poor farmer) offers up His two goats in sacrifice to provide the evening’s meal. There’s one caveat: the bones must not be cracked for their marrow. They must remain intact. The farmer’s son Thjalfi can’t resist and cracks one leg bone to suck a bit of the marrow. When Thor restores the goats to life, one of them is lame. In reparation for this, the peasant offers his children Thjalfi and Roskva to Thor as servants. It’s an entertaining tale and Loki, Thor, and the children go off to have adventures. For our purposes, however, the important point is the emphasis on maintaining the integrity of the bones.

In the Theod, we solved the initial debate by choosing to sacrifice in the traditional way (and in retrospect I’m very, very glad we did so). At the time, I didn’t see the problem with shooting the animal first. It seemed merciful and kind but over the years I’ve completely changed my position. Partly, I’ve had so much more experience with proper sacrifice and I’ve become far more confident in making sacrifice myself, and I’ve had far more exposure to other traditions where this is likewise common. I learned several things, not the least of which was that if a cut is done cleanly and correctly, it is actually all but painless for the animal. I’ve also come to realize how crucially important this story is to the ritual scaffolding in which sacrifice must take place.

When we do these ritual actions, like sacrifice, we’re re-enacting our cosmology. We’re bringing to life the communal mysteries of our tradition. A living tradition exists in those currents and it is the obligation of those practicing it to renew them regularly.

This is also largely why I no longer believe it appropriate to shoot the animal before cutting its throat. A) it’s far more humane to cut properly and B) any other method is a violation of ritual protocol. The bones must remain intact. I went back and forth on this for years and I used to come down on the side of shooting the animal first if one felt one must but now, I think that is incorrect. As we learn better, we do better. A sacrifice is more than just a collection of mechanical techniques. It is the living expression of a tradition. It is a sacrament.

For the blotere,(1) there are three parts to any sacrifice that must be carefully learned and understood: the mechanics (how to make the cut and to do it painlessly for the animal, and effectively), how to do the divination to determine how to dispose of the sacrifice and whether or not it was accepted, and the ritual itself, in other words, how to infuse the entire procedure with the holy, how to make the conscious connections between the cosmic structures in which we’re working, the ritual being done, the living tradition, and the Gods Themselves. This is a ritual process. It’s not enough to simply cut an animal’s throat, or kill it in some other way, and give it to the Gods. There is a proper ritual scaffolding for the act, an act that is our holiest and most important of sacraments.

It’s not just that you’re giving a life to the Gods; the act of sacrifice is an imitation of primordial creation: Odin, Lodhur, and Hoenir create the world out of the slaughter of Ymir. Sacrifice is tapping into that, recreating that act, everything that it encompasses, bringing our traditions into being again and again and again and that’s potent magic.(2) It must be approached in a proper way, with purity and focus, and attention to every detail. It’s not enough just to slaughter. We must understand what we’re tapping into and why.

This all came up recently within my lineage when one of my apprentices received inspiration for a sacrificial song. We had long felt that there should be some sort of song sung when the animal is being sacrificed.(3) In fact, it’s rather odd for our traditions not to have one; after all, the ATR have a special song that is sung when an animal is given and so did many Greek and Roman traditions. It was part of the procedure in many IE traditions and it always seemed rather odd to find the Norse and Germanic ones lacking. I was delighted when L. came to me with his song and when I did divination to confirm its appropriateness, the sense of it was overwhelming. Our tradition regained one of its songs. Think about how profound that is for a moment. When our traditions were destroyed by Christianity, our songs fell silent. Our procedures were lost. The scaffolding that supported our traditions was broken. This is one step back to full restoration and that is incredible.

It brings home the necessity, the crucial necessity of re-sacralizing our ritual procedures. It’s not enough to do, rather we must understand how to invest these actions with the sacred and why – otherwise, it’s pointless. (4) We must open ourselves up once again to awareness of the Holy. Our Gods are counting on us. Our traditions demand it.

The next time I take up the sacrificial knife and prepare myself for this ritual, I will think on this: Thor had two goats given over to nourish both Gods and man. Their bones must always remain unbroken and they will be restored to life. As I take up the blotere’s blade, with each offering, I am calling our traditions back to life again, and again, and again. May they flourish.

Notes:

1. sacrificial priest
2. this article is about ritual sacrifice to the Gods only. Sacrifice for magical purposes is a different matter all together, not covered here.
3. It doesn’t matter to which Deity the animal is being given, or how the animal is disposed of afterwards: the act of sacrifice itself taps into certain cosmic grooves within the tradition.
4. and a mockery of our ancestral ways.

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Be sure to check out my other sites:

Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy

My academia.edu page

My amazon author page.

Walking the Worlds Journal

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Reposting Thoughts on Sacrifice

I’ve been thinking a lot about sacrifice lately. Yule is approaching and that is a time where I often give appropriate sacrifices to Odin and it’s time to start thinking about what the winter will entail, and to start making the necessary preparations should animal sacrifice be part of that.

I take the necessity and goodness of sacrifice for granted but obviously not everyone does. I recently had an issue with a neighbor over my practice. She didn’t see anything (I’m not rude to my neighbors and I have a secluded area and shed in which I do this type of work), but simply knowing that this was part of my practice bothered her extensively, to the point of her lightly interfering and interrupting a non-sacrificial religious rite. It’s easy when surrounded only by people who share one’s worldview, to forget how disconnected our society is from its food cycles, from offertory traditions, from life and death, and from the ways of our ancestors. Think about, people don’t die in the home anymore. They get shipped off to hospitals and hospice to make that passage which denies us contact with them in their last days, and with the process surrounding their dying, something, I might add, that I believe ratchets up the grief afterwards. Unlike with our ancestors, we buy our food neatly pasteurized, sanitized, sterilized, geneticized (yes, i’m making up a word? ) and sealed. There are kids today that don’t know hamburgers come from cows. Disconnection seems at times too mild a word.

Even for those of us engaging in these practices there can be one hell of a learning curve, but so much good can come of facing that head on because sacrifice is essential to polytheistic religions.  To paraphrase Ken Dowden, noted scholar of Roman religion “without sacrifice there is no piety.” (1) Period. End of story and this is not rocket science. Except in fact, for those of us raised in our modern, spiritually oblivious culture, apparently it is. This is, sadly, understandable. How many of us after all have grown up slaughtering our own food? That separation from the origins of what nourishes us creates, I believe, an inability to position the act of slaughtering an animal in one’s world either practically or sacrally. There is a level of disconnect present with which our ancestors never had to deal. Take for example, that neighbor who recently wanted to know why I had to be so “mean” to the chickens I was about to ritually offer, why couldn’t I get my meat at the grocery store?” –(factory farming obviously not a moral issue for the woman). Why indeed and if you could see me now, you’d see the exasperated rolling of my eyes. It can be a really shocking and frightening thing though, for those who have never been exposed to it sacrally, except maybe in media stupidity and sensationalism.

I get really passionate about this subject too. I’m passionate about a lot of things, but fiercely so where sacrifice is concerned, partly because I believe it’s incredibly dangerous and unhelpful to carry unexamined modern attitudes into our practice, and partly because sacrifice is so, so important. I’m really glad that it’s come up recently in discussion again, because it is a much needed impetus for me to write more about this. We talk much about restoring our ancestral traditions but this particular tradition can make some of us cringe: without butchery, i.e. the slaughter of animals, there is no piety. There is no religion. There is no being in right relationship with one’s Gods. Pretty much, to one degree or another, across the board this was the accepted view of our ancestors, and of religious traditions that sustained their people for generations upon generations. Even Judaism, Islam, and some forms of Christianity allow for it in many cases. Our railing against the necessity of sacrifice is just one more way that we assume that we know better than our ancestors. It’s one more way that we assume the death of our traditions was some sort of moral ‘progress.’ It’s what my colleague Raven Kaldera, in our book “Northern Tradition for the Solitary Practitioner,” called “Urdummheit,” the idea that our ancestors were stupid.

I have found over the past couple of years, that in some sections of modern polytheism, even the idea of giving appropriate offerings is problematic. After all, it does highlight that we and our feelings are not the central point of the religious equation, doesn’t it? When Sannion and I were on the air, discussing this (among other things) on our show Wyrd Ways Radio, we had an unexpected call in by a listener who told a fascinating story about Alexander the Great, which can be found here. If I could see our contemporary polytheisms nurture any attitude in its followers, it would be this: we cannot give too much to our Gods. But in a culture, permeated with Protestant values, the values that say “don’t waste that” (or if one is Heathen “Don’t give too much!!!” – as if one *could*) when one is about to lay out an offering of food or drink, as if giving tangibly to one’s Gods and ancestors is a waste, it’s no wonder that we think ourselves kinder and gentler and –let’s be honest–above offering an animal. We as a culture think ourselves better than our pious ancestors.(2) It’s an arrogance unthinkable to the ancient mind.

Sacrifice is one of the holiest of offerings. It is the most solemn and sacred of all rituals. It renews, restores, nourishes in a way that no other offering can. Not every Deity requires this granted, but many, many do. The role of the sacrificial priest, one that I have fulfilled since 1995, is an awesome responsibility. One must learn the mechanics of slaughter adeptly, so that the animal in no ways suffers. One must develop (or have an assistant with this skill) the ability to communicate with and soothe the animal. It is important that the animal suffer neither pain nor terror. They are fulfilling a tremendously sacred role, the apex of what their own wyrd may be, and participating in this communicatory cycle in a way denied us as people. It is an act worthy of recognition, respect, and care. This type of priest must learn all the necessary prayers and purificatory rites required before, during, and after both for oneself and for the animal. It is necessary to develop a very strong connection with one’s ancestors and one’s lineage because the power released during a sacrifice is enormous and the broken threads of our traditions, imperfectly restored (if at all) may not be able to sustain the force of that which once would have nourished a living community. Not everyone is meant to be a sacrificial priest. It’s a specialist position. Even though, for instance, I’ve done this work for years, I still divine before each and every ritual involving sacrifice to make certain that I am cleared to serve in this capacity. Our ancestors had the option in many cases of going to a temple, purchasing an animal, and having the sacrifice done for them. One should not attempt a sacrifice without proper training and, for the first few rituals, oversight. There’s no room for error here. There’s no room either from a religious perspective or a compassionate one for getting it wrong.

I will always divine before planning a sacrifice, even if I am sure one is desired. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe I’m wrong. I let the Gods and ancestors speak for themselves. I will divine and if there is any further question after that, I will see another diviner for absolute impartiality. I will also divine right before the sacrifice is to be performed, and immediately after to make sure that it was accepted. Well before a rite of this sort is done, I will seek the Gods’ counsel on how it should be disposed of: is it meant to be cooked up to feed and nourish a community too? Is it meant to be given in total immolation to the Gods? Is it meant to be buried or disposed of in a particular place? What do the Gods wish? This is one of the purposes of divination, to give the Gods a chance to convey Their wishes. Even if I am certain that I have heard and understood a Deity directly, I will still confirm with divination. I do this not to question the Deity, but in deference to my flawed human understanding. I do not want *my* errata of comprehension or translation to mar the process.

So I will share how I consecrated my statue of Dionysos several years ago. I first did divination to determine that such sacrifice was appropriate and then asked if He would accept two roosters. (With a shoulder and back injury, I no longer offer four-legged animals without a strong assistant present). The divination was very positive, I also asked if Hermes would require an offering and again, it was positive. After setting the date, acquiring the animals, cleansing and going through my ritual process, I first made offering to Hermes, one of the quickest, cleanest, and most beautiful of sacrifices I have ever done. The bird was field-dressed and cooked up with herbs, lemons (for some reason, it keeps coming up at every Hermes offering that He likes lemons!), and lots and lots of butter and offered to Him as a feast. The blood was used to consecrate His image, and the head and heart put at the base of His herm. Then the Dionysos offering was made and His statue likewise washed in the blood of the two birds. They were then disposed of as divination indicated (and this was long enough ago, that I don’t recall what we did with them). Divination afterwards showed both offerings to have been happily accepted. I made sure to do all requisite cleansing after to remove miasma (even though it is a sacred thing, the killing of an animal, like marriage, carries miasma) and so it was done. Not too long after, I wrote the following:

Sacrifice is important. It’s one of the holiest and most sacred of our rituals. When we engage in sacrifice for our Gods, we are entering into the flow of a very ancient, very, very profound contract We are entering into something tremendously powerful, something that reaches to the very core of our traditions. This is what brings renewal. This is what brings grace and blessing to the community. This is one of the things that nourishes our Gods and in turn nourishes us. It completes a sacred cycle and there is very little if anything that may serve as a truly adequate substitute.

For this reason, I give thanks for those clergy, of all our various traditions who have dedicated themselves to the task of learning and restoring these rituals and protocols. I give thanks to the Gods and ancestors for those who teach and those who do, for those who take up the knife so that our Gods may have the offerings best suited to Their glory. I give thanks for our sacrificial priests (and yes, I am one, but I give thanks to those who taught me, to those from whom I continue to learn, and to the Gods for Their continued patience). I give thanks to the farmers who provide the feast for the Powers. I give thanks to the fire that carries the fullness of the sacrifice away via immolation and I give thanks to those who dress and prepare the sacrifices for feasting, when that is appropriate. I give thanks to the knife and the ones who craft it. I give thanks for the animals and I give thanks for the land that catches the blood as it is spilled. These things are sacred. The hands of the sacrificial priest are sacred, and the process and cycle itself. For these things, I am grateful. I know how they nourish wyrd. I know what it means to restore these rites after two thousand years of our ritual places lying fallow.

I stand by that now. If sacrifice bothers you, consider why and understand that your discomfort does not for a moment render this act any less sacred or any less necessary. The modern lens through which we filter our faith is the problem not the corpus of sacred rites given into our care and safe-keeping. Sometimes veneration is messy.

sacrifice_boar_louvre_g112

Notes:

  1. Ken Dowden, Religion and the Romans, Bristol Classics Press, 1992, p. 1.
  2. The impact of the Protestant work ethic on contemporary Polytheisms and the making of offerings is a topic I’m reserving for another post.

More on sacrifice may be found here and here. See also a post I made earlier in the year on modernity and polytheism. 

Defend Tradition

Please Sign this Petition

My fellow readers, please consider signing this petition. It was started by the Lukumi elder who pioneered protecting our right to sacrifice: Oba Pichardo, whose 1993 case against the city of Hialeah won Supreme Court Recognition of religions’ right to ritual sacrifice. 

This right is NOT guaranteed. Even though we have SCOTUS precedent, it can still be chipped away at, just as animal rights groups are continually trying to do. There is a recent case working its way through the VA court system now and if the state wins, it is not unlikely that other states will use this to effectively remove religious exemption to animal slaughter. We often think that we can skate by in this country, that no one will ever interfere with our religious freedoms, and many of us refer when challenged to that 1993 case but *nothing* is set in stone and those that would shatter our religions again know this. 

If you care at all for one of our holiest of rights, if you care at all for the freedom to practice your religion unimpeded (even if your religion does NOT involve sacrifice), please consider signing. 

 

Offerings and Sacrifice Redux

So once again the subject of offerings and sacrifice has come up on a discussion thread; specifically, the comment was made that food offerings shouldn’t be wasted, that if something is given in offering or if a sacrifice is made, unless human beings get to eat it, it’s going to waste.

Part of me really wants to just go “bitch, please, this argument has happened already and it’s not rocket science. Catch up, please.” but since that’s not necessarily conducive to understanding and discussion, allow me to parse this out again.

Making offerings is an essential part of the devotional process and at the apex of all offering rites, ritual sacrifice is the holiest and most profound type of offering that one can give.

To say that offerings are wasted if they’re not then given to people is remarkably self-centered of us. How can they be wasted when they are being given to Gods and spirits? If you actually believe in the Gods, then giving to Them is not wasteful. That’s the catch there. Offerings set on a shrine are not being left out to rot; they’re being given to specific Deities or spirits. Sacrifices made and left at a shrine are not being left to go to waste, they are being given again, to Gods and spirits. That we cannot see or corporeally engage with our Gods does not make Them any less real.

What actually happens to an offering or sacrifice may vary: it depends to what God or spirit it’s being given. Whether or not the sacrifice is later consumed will depend on the Deity, the tradition, and most importantly, the divination done before and after the sacrifice. (1) Likewise, what happens to an offering will depend on the same factors. This is part of an ongoing conversation with our Holy Powers, the Great Ones and the least we can do is not be parsimonious twats about the whole thing. If nothing else, this process reinforces the reality that we are not the biggest, most important Beings in the universe. It teaches humility, reverence, and in the best cases imbues us with an overwhelming sense of awe that we can stand in right relationship with our Gods with all that entails.

Our right to sacrifice is not a given. It is under constant threat, not just from Christian evangelicals and other monotheistic extremists but from secular humanists/non-theists and most of all from animal rights groups that will go to any lengths to see the practice banned. They’ve been successful too, helped by a social justice agenda that values any culture and religion except that which would prioritize the Gods.

This past year has seen sacrifice banned in at least two places (Denmark and Nepal’s Gadhimai festival) and there have been multiple threats to its practice that weren’t so successful (ARM is constantly agitating against the ATR, there was a legal challenge in Brooklyn last October against the Orthodox Jewish community and their new year sacrifice, to name but two). Our legal right to sacrifice to our Gods rests on a 1994 case that went all the way to the Supreme Court: Ernesto Pichardo and the Church of Babaluaye vs. the City of Hialeah. As we’ve seen with another Supreme court victory, Roe v. Wade, even a precedent setting decision by the Supreme Court can be diminished and chipped away at little by little…or even overturned.

I would like to think that if (when) our right to practice our religions unimpeded is ever challenged, that our polytheistic communities would band together and stand together fiercely protecting our ancestral traditions, challenging and fighting any restrictions…even if one’s own cultus does not require sacrifice (after all, we should never compromise in honoring our Gods and if it’s sacrifice today, what practice will be on the chopping block tomorrow?). I would like to think that if our ATR colleagues were to see their right to sacrifice threatened again that we would stand together, unified, to support them as well.

Sadly, I know that isn’t the case. We have too many people who just don’t care and too few people able (willing?) to look ahead. We need to be looking ahead. These are perilous times and whether we like it or not, we are minority religions. I want every Polytheist and Pagan out there to be able to honor their Gods without having to hide their practices, break the law, or feel ashamed. We should be able to celebrate without having to watch for informants, busy-bodies, and bigots. We should not have to curtail our religious practices because our neighbors may not understand, as one recent article suggested. We should, in fact, blatantly and boldly refuse to do so. After all, it should be more important to please the Gods than the asshole down the street.(2)

So I watch and do my best to stay vigilant. I pay attention to articles involving animal rights, to people arrested for animal slaughter (religious or not, it’s easy enough for something to be spun in a way that brings disaster to us), to international efforts overseas to ban slaughter. I write at several venues to try to raise awareness, and I refuse to support organizations (like PETA) that would take my religious rites away. I would like to see us more organized, more able to fight, and fend off attacks on our religions but looking at the community today, we’ve a long way to go.

 

  1. I’m very carefully separating out offerings that do not require animal sacrifice (offering) from those that do (sacrifice).
  2. It helps to research local zoning laws and have the information at your fingertips. I also suggest screening your property. I have a screened enclosure where I will perform sacrifices, and a huge back porch that can be screened if need requires. I do not in any way suggest performing sacrifice where your neighbors can gawk. This is a sacred thing, not some for profane eyes to observe.

More Attacks on Sacrifice

I’ve seen quite a few articles over the last couple of days pointing to attacks on our right to sacrifice. In many cases, these articles aren’t just targeting us (or perhaps aren’t even targeting us at all) but are going after Hindu practitioners or ATR practitioners, as well as Jews and Muslims (1). This is still significant, not only because of any precedent that might be set, but because sooner or later we will be targeted, or a large scale ban on sacrifice will end up including us by default. This happened just this past year with Denmark.

Sacrifice is, to many polytheisms (including my own Heathenry and cultus deorum), the holiest of religious rites. More than anything else it is the ritual that cements and consistently renews our connection to our Gods, our relationship with Them, and the reciprocity that flows from a well-tended relationship. It is that which keeps our communities and our traditions vital, powerful, and alive. It was the first thing Christians targeted when they were coming to power, and it is the thing that is really the litmus test for the health of our communities today. I have seen groups and communities torn apart because half were attuned to the traditions and practices of their ancestral ways and half were children of modernity, sure that they were smarter and more evolved than our ancestors, and sure that they knew best what the Gods might want. This is one of those things wherein there is no compromise possible.

I’ve been a blòt priest since roughly 1996. I began doing sacrifices for my kindred very early on, having received basic training from a local farmer. I also, later, had the privilege of spending several years as part of a Theod. This was exceptionally beneficial to my understanding of the raw holiness of the sacrificial process. More than any other denomination of Heathenry, I think Theodism has done the most to restore the proper rite of blòt. This is what we call a ritual where animal sacrifice takes place. (2) I simply do not think it is possible to practice our polytheisms adequately without rites of sacrifice. This is not, of course, to say that everyone must be actively doing sacrifice. That was never the case. Like many other roles, the role of sacrificial priest is that of a specialist. There is training both in ritual work and in the art of butchery required. There are also mysteries here that both the priest and community must understand. Sacrifice is a ritual steeped in raw, primal βíoς. That has consequences. If not handled properly, that primal power can cause damage. This is why the community is such an important part of the scaffolding for such a rite. I would go so far as to say that without sacrifice, we have restored nothing. It is that which enables our traditions to grow.

So needless to say, it is quite concerning to see attacks by the ignorant and impious on this holy rite.

I won’t post the link, partly because it sickens me and partly because I don’t want to give it traffic, but there is a substantial petition being circulated demanding that the EU ban animal sacrifice in all of its constituent countries. Never mind about religious freedom. Never mind that EU provisions guarantee freedom to practice one’s religion in those self-same constituent countries.

Then there was this article, about a sacrifice at Soma Yaga that has resulted in a clear desire by local politicians to eradicate the practice…nevermind protecting their indigenous traditions, never mind respecting their Gods.

Then there are the animal rights terrorist groups. (3) They’ve already had two victories this year: Denmark and Nepal. We need to come together and work together to make sure they do not have another.

This is our holiest sacrament. There is no substitution for it.

I am worried. I think there are too many people who have bought into the myth of “progress” (i.e. abandoning our traditions for some deviation of western secularism) and are hell-bent on destroying our traditions. I understand that people don’t want animals to suffer (neither do we) but a sacrifice done well is a kind and painless death, especially compared to factory farming. I also think that there is a prolonged and insidious war on polytheistic traditions. Hinduism has long known this and cries for religious equality and tolerance never seem to include leaving indigenous Hindus alone to practice their religion – the religion native to India—unimpeded. Polytheists always seem to be expected to compromise their devotion to accommodate monotheists or secularists and I think it’s time we stopped doing either.

I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t know how to roll back this tide but I do know we need to protect our traditions. So let’s talk about this, and let’s talk across traditions, and maybe let’s see what we can do in our individual locales to raise awareness, protect our farmers (an important piece in this), and secure our rite to practice.

 

Notes:

  1. ATR refers to “African Traditional Religions” like Lukumi, Ifa, Candomble, Voudoun, etc.
  2. It has its ritual analogs amongst other polytheists as well, but for the purposes of this article, I’m just going to focus on the rite of blòt and then only tangentially.
  3. And yes, this is how they’re classified, as an elder recently pointed out, by the government.